|Feast of the Birth of Blessed Virgin Mary
5:1-4, or Romans 8:28-30
Psalm 13:6, 6
Matthew 1:1-16, 18-23 or 1:18-2
Some years ago I hosted an Ecuadorian Jesuit-friend over Christmas.
He was new to the United States. I remember growing up that my parents
always had an extra place at dinner "just in case" and told me in high school
and college during holidays to be on the lookout for someone who did not
have a place to go and bring him/her home (after I joined the Jesuits they
sang a hymn that it would only be a him!)
On our grand tour of New Jersey Culture I took my friend to Bayonne, place
of my birth and boyhood. We went to Rocco's tavern where they have
the BEST thin crust pizza and deep fried calamari (squid) in the universe
(by my humble estimations.)
I still knew some of the people in the bar though it had been years since
I had been back there. As I shook a few hands and engaged in a few
Bayonne style hugs one person at the end of the bar asked another who I was.
He replied "the hairdresser's son."
One of the banes of our individualistic American life is to be identified
by someone else! Children suffer in school being identified by siblings
(who usually did "better" than they), spouses get the cross-eye when identified
by their partners, and although we identify strongly with family and causes
we like to be known by our OWN names!
Yet in a lot of the world the opposite happens. In the Bible and in
many lands children were known as the "son of" or "daughter of" their fathers.
In Korea parents are known by the name of their children (those of us of
an age remember the television show "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" Eddie's
Father being the proper Korean title for, well, Eddie's father!) Today,
Jesus is identified by all of Joseph's relatives (if you went for the long
version) and Mary identified as the spouse of Joseph. Joseph is not
JUST Joseph, he's also "Son of David." Mary is not just Mary, she is
also all of the generations of the one to whom she marries.
On the birth of Mary we remember and rejoice in these connections, social
and sacred. For Mary is our true mother, one to whom we are all related
in faith just as Jesus, her son and the Son of God, is our brother.
The first reading tells us that the messiah will have certain connections,
the key to those being that He will be the least born of the least.
To be willing to identify oneself as part of families and groups and places
is not to dissolve one's identity but rather to "lessen" it so that one's
larger identity will be greater.
On the birth of Mary we hear everything BUT the story of the birth of Mary-we
don't even know about that beyond the fabrications of the Middle Ages.
What we do hear are the Divine connections which continue today to make us
Maybe in that dimly lit bar in Bayonne I secretly wanted to be announced
as the kid who got left back in Saint Henry's but went on to get a Ph. D.
at the University of Chicago. BUT ultimately it was even better to
be known simply as "the Hairdresser's son." On this feast
of Mary's birth we remember that we too are the sons and daughters of Mary